Garden Views-04-April 2022

April 2022 began with a series of sharp frosts, culminating in minus 7 degrees C on the morning of the 3rd. It also began on April fool’s day with our first ewe needing intervention to deliver both her lambs, early in the morning. The first of the 2 ram lambs was a real struggle to deliver, and as is our way, we’ve name them after daffodil cultivars we grow, or will grow.

After a gap of 4 years with no lambs, it’s always such a delight and thrill to see how fast these still, slimey forms are up, and if not running, then looking bright and bonny.

This year all names will begin with the letter ‘i’ so these first 2 will be called ‘Ice Follies’ and ‘Ice Wings’, or likely Folly and Wings for short. Shortly joined by Itzim, our first ewe lamb, which will mean a few more daffodils to buy this autumn.

It’s also remarkable to see how quickly the spring bulb flowers bounce back from such harsh frosts, once the sun gains a little height in the morning.

The garden entered April with 3 viable honeybee colonies – another progression of 1 from last year. Since all were essentially new colonies from last May (2 caught and rehomed swarms, and one taking over with a new queen in the hive from which the 4 swarms emerged), it seems that our essentially minimal intervention bees – very limited honey harvest, no treatments and no feeding – are increasing in numbers in a gradual way which matches Thomas Seeley’s studies of wild honeybee populations. Since we’re blessed with a wonderful array of native wildflowers and suitable tree and shrub forage for honeybees locally, but only really from April onwards, one of my main interests is to always have around 3 hives which are active during winter/very early spring, so that our spring bulbs provide pollen and nectar opportunities for them. These flowers should also then get pollinated and achieve good seed set in return. The final 3 hives/boxes which are empty this spring, have now all been repositioned, and/or re-purposed with greater roof insulation and optional small top entrances.All these repurposed empty hives will stay blocked up and closed until we reach the early swarm season towards the end of April, which I’ll mark the entrances with my home made wax/olive oil/ citronella and geraniol mix. Although I’ll need to keep an eye open for tree wasps, Dolichovespula sylvestris, and tree bumblebees, Bombus hypnorum, which both seem to spot their potential as good nesting sites too, and are already actively exploring some of them. The German butterchurn hive is designed to be completely non intervention, whilst the other 2 have opportunities for limited honey removal through jars, or conventional frames.

With the ground now so dry, very welcome heavy rain fell on the morning of the 4th, and a slight increase in temperatures will hopefully see a little more grass growth. Fortunately our hay stores have lasted well in the generally mild weather of the past winter, but it’s always a bit of a worry with more mouths appearing on the scene, that the grass grows away quickly, heading into May.

From April 9th to the end of the month, just 16 mm of rain fell, so once again we were heading into water conservation mode, and the stream flow reduced dramatically, with an unhealthy growth of blanket weed over much of its length. At the top of our upper hay meadow, for the first year there were many leaves of seedling Narcissi, and other bulbs appearing, from seed saved fromt the few fertile, and mainly white/pale yellow forms we grow. How long before we manage a display to rival the meadows round Newent, or Farndale, I wonder?

Fortunately, we rarely had warm conditions, since there were days with brisk winds, so the evaporation of water from the land wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but with the current forecast for May also looking dry, we’re heading into slightly uncharted territory, with wondering whether we’ll be able to eke our spring water supply out. The lack of warmth meant that there was no real evidence of honeybee scouts throughout the month, and only a few occasions when all 3 occupied hives were really active.  

We were able to lay an Easter egg hunt for the first time in 3 years, when our younger son, wife and his 6 children visited just before Easter.After a couple of issues with lambs succumbing to odd navel ill type lameness and unthriftiness, which we seem to have nipped in the bud, the dry weather provided near optimum conditions for the lambing season. the only issue now being grass growth to feed the enlarging flock.

Our few Erythroniums proved to be a great success this year, as well as a new trial planting of Tulipa ‘Peppermint Stick’ and T. ‘Little Beauty’ in the copse amongst the white and blue bells.

The month ended with some light rain arriving on the last evening, but the monthly total of just 53.1 mm was, for the third out of 4 months of 2022, significantly below our average. Confirmed by the Met Office, here. Sunshine levels, although not as high as the spectacular levels of 2020 and 2021, were certainly evenly spaced through the month, and although the month was milder than average, we had more frosts than in February, which delayed the arrival of some flowers, but also meant that daffodils lasted for longer than is often the case. But we now hope for mean reversion on rainfall values, or risk serious water issues, as well as grass supplies for our sheep later in the summer, once temperatures rise. The video below captures some of the sounds and movement in the garden from the first 3 weeks of April 2022. Hopefully 22 minutes of tranquility – mainly.